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Cabinet of curiosity.

I think it was in Standard 6 biology class that we were required to do an entomology project. This entailed seeking out (chasing dementedly after) specific specimens, effectively euthanising them and mounting them on board complete with latin names smartly lettered. I'm sure you can imagine the squeals of disgust that resulted from the pitting of teenage girls against various insect life. But we became ruthless in the pursuit of good grades and driving that pin through the abdomen of whatever poor butterfly or beetle we had caught was ultimately done with glee.

Until one horrid experience that is etched in my brain. I awoke in my dormitory cubicle (yes, a product of boarding school) early one morning to the sound of desperate scratching. Lying in the pitch dark, I was terrified. Eventually forced to switch on the lights and investigate, I discovered one large butterfly that had 'woken' and was unsuccessfully attempting to fly away. Skewered through it's middle it wasn't going anywhere but the scratching sound had been the result of the wings scraping against it's polystyrene bed. Appalled, I quickly grabbed the bottle of acetone and doused the poor thing - effectively ruining my project (have you seen what nail polish remover does when it comes into contact with polystyrene?) but fortunately ending the life of the damned thing by drowning rather than anesthesia. 

Why the protracted childhood recollection? Well, I'm not a fan of insects. Not in a oooh-scream-I'm-such-a-girl way, just in the sense that I'd rather we didn't share the same space if at all possible. And I'm not much a fan of animals, either ("cold-hearted-bitch" I can hear you saying, so I won't even attempt to explain myself).

Perhaps it was then surprising that after reading about Deyrolle, the absolute 'cabinet of curiosity' in Paris, I was keen to visit. Or perhaps unsurprising as being specialists in the collection of insects, shells and animals of all kinds since 1831 they are a darn sight better at the art of death than I had been.

Above images Deyrolle.

I think the shop on Rue de Bac has been housed in the same building since 1888. It has a rich history in not only entomology and zoology but botany, geography and human anatomy. It was visited by artists the likes of Salvador Dali and André Breton in their time. The unassuming first floor houses books, fragrances, garden tools and garden accessories of beautiful quality. It's all natural fibres and stainless steel flower pots costing €100. Aptly named Le Prince Jardiner.

Above images Deyrolle.

It's on the second floor that the taxidermy is revealed. From a polar bear to a mole - they've a collection enviable only by Noah. And then there are the insects. Quite an astonishing collection. But most of all I liked the posters. The House of Deyrolle was the first supplier of 'teaching boards' to the State Education Department since 1866 and even today supports teaching and sustainable development. Their posters are a collection of beautifully illustrated vintage teaching aides from botanicals to anatomy.

Above images Laurent Bochet.

One of the most interesting books on display was "1000ºC". It's the photographic story of a fire that devastated Deyrolle in February 2008. Representing the fragile state of nature, photographs of the charred remains of taxidermy animals as well as sculpture, drawings, paintings and other works of art done by over 50 artisits were auctioned by Christie's to help raise funds for the restoration. And the restoration was painstaking taking almost two years and paying close attention to refit the space as it was previously.

Above images Objet de Curiosité. One of the decor houses I spotted at Masion&Objet.

The art of taxidermy and entymology seem to have shed their grisly reputation (for a while wasn't it just serial killers in movies that collected insects?) Nowadays I can't stop seeing it's use in interior decor. I particularly noted a lot of it at Masion&Objet yesterday. A well placed skull or box-framed collection of some rare beetle from Thailand with a long latin name seems to hint at owners with a natural curiosity and a taste for the exotic and unusual. A display of a fossilised giant Clam must hint that you're an explorer - even if it was chosen out of a catalog and delivered by UPS?

It's not that I'm not a fan of this aesthetic, it's just that it can seem a little 'faked'. I'm not advising that you shoot the deer that you then get stuffed and mount on the wall, I'm just suggesting that unless you actually bought that beetle collection in Thailand or have the story to tell of how you unearthed that gem of a starfish specimen at an antiques market then perhaps you're slightly less qualified to display it. I admire real collectors, and feel privileged to be introduced to their collections as they are usually accompanied by rich stories.

But that's just me, what do I know? I can't even kill a butterfly successfully.

Comments for this entry


Oh, I laughed about your tragic moth/butterfly episode - I couldn't help it! This place looks a little scary - all those birds - are they stuffed?? Eeeeek. But I am totally with you on people who fake-collect items such as these - buying them in bulk sometimes to decorate a home or hotel. Stories are important. (But I also know people who make up stories about their "things"!)

Kelly Fletcher

Think I'll stick with fabric and thread, thanks. So strange, I'm reading a book about a couple who live in a house surrounded by stuffed and mounted exhbits from the Arctic, including polar bears and butterflies! Great post, by the way. Nice to see you have more time for writing - you should do more of it.


@Anairam - haven't ever thought about people making up stories about their 'things'. Glad I could give you a laugh!

@Kelly - thanks. I'm certain the writing in most of my posts is full of grammatical and other errors, but if I thought to much about it I'd never post anything!


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